To Save and Project: The 15th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation opens tonight with William K. Howard’s Transatlantic (1931; image above), “a pre-Code comedy firmly set during the golden age of ocean travel,” as Caroline Golum notes at Screen Slate. “Beyond the sumptuous interiors of the ship itself (art director Gordon Wiles snagged an Academy Award for his work), Transatlantic abounds in elegance . . . Howard honors this stately steel leviathan with artistry to match: from swanning dolly shots, weaving through first-and-second class passengers alike, to coy glances at smart chapeaux and handsome pups.”
When it screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato last summer, the festival noted: “If Transatlantic has not received the attention it merits, it is largely because of its shaky state of preservation: no complete copy of the American release version has survived. This new restoration from the Museum of Modern Art matches the complete English audio track to picture elements derived from the French, Italian and Spanish export versions, yielding a full sense of the film for the first time in eighty years.”
The festival also offered an appreciation of Howard’s work by To Save and Project programmer Dave Kehr, who notes that “cinematographer James Wong Howe, Howard’s collaborator on the brilliant deep focus effects of the 1931 Transatlantic, described him as the most creative filmmaker he had ever worked with. . . . The ocean liner of Transatlantic is perhaps the most intricately realized of Howard’s narrative spaces, a maze of staterooms and ladders.”
For David Cairns, Howard “a sort of ‘Grand Hotel at sea meets The Saint’ into something genuinely, excessively cinematic. We get to enjoy a young Myrna Loy, a heavily disguised Jean Hersholt, and a couple of obscure beauties—Lois Moran in the boring nice girl role and Greta Nissen as the much more exciting bad girl, dancing frenetically in a top hat. The film seems like a B-movie (perhaps a Saint one) made on a super-A budget, and the new restoration is gorgeous, all art deco white and sweep and dash.”
As J. Hoberman notes, writing for the New York Review of Books, this year’s edition of To Save and Project “has something for everyone: the silent, Douglas Fairbanks version of The Three Musketeers (on 35 mm), Ida Lupino’s 1950 B-movie Outrage (a film about rape in which, thanks to the production code, the word is never used), William K. Howard’s 1932 Sherlock Holmes (starring Clive Brook), programs devoted to Cinerama and the work of the Canadian expeditionary filmmaker who called herself Aloha Wanderwell, and, showing in one marathon screening, R. W. Fassbinder’s eight-hour 1972 mini-series Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day.”
CRU also has roundups on Chantal Akerman’s Les rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna, 1978), screening Monday and Thursday, and Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944), screening January 26 and 27.
Back to David Cairns and to William K. Howard. Sherlock Holmes “sports a fine Watson in Reginald Owen, who anticipates Nigel Bruce’s interp (‘By Jove, Holmes, it’s a positive ambuscade!’) and a transcendent Moriarty in Ernest Torrence . . . The stagey talking scenes are one thing, but Howard shows his creativity between scenes, as with a dazzling montage introducing a funfair straight out of Lynchland.”
The festival’s on through February 1, and as more reviews appear, we’ll be making note of them here.
Updates, 1/19: “Previous series have always focused attention on world cinema, and this year is no exception,” writes Daniel Eagan for Film Journal International. “Margaret Bodde, the executive director of The Film Foundation, will introduce a stunning restoration of Soleil Ô (Oh, Sun!), written and directed by Mauritanian artist Med Hondo. Incidents in the film reflect Hondo's own experiences as an immigrant laborer struggling to understand an alien, generally hostile culture. The restoration enhances the film's dissociation, surrealistic flights, non-sequiturs, angry debates and dumbfounding racism, and makes François Catonné's cinematography pristine once more.”
“Cinerama, in its original form, lasted only about a decade, but it paved the way for enduring wide-screen formats,” writes Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times. “The first thing to understand about Cinerama, one of the gimmicks developed to help movies compete with television in the 1950s, is just how large an image it could produce. Imagine a frame of film from Lawrence of Arabia, shot in 65 millimeter, which became the gold standard for wide-screen epics. Now imagine a frame 20 percent taller. Then imagine three of those frames projected side by side, triptych-style, on a screen that would fill your peripheral vision. And imagine a team of four or five projectionists working to keep the presentation in sync.”
Danielle Burgos at Screen Slate on Fassbinder and Eight Hours: “Melding worker ideology to the already popular ‘family series’ style, he provoked thought through relatability, and instead of sermonizing, interlinked political struggle and everyday drama in genuinely engrossing entertainment. Call it Occupy Genre.”
Update, 1/22: Med Hondo’s “approach to the immigrant experience in Soleil Ô is ferocious,” writes Caroline Gil. “As he described, ‘When I wrote my script I did not have an audience in mind, I was living in France and experiencing what being a minority felt like. I had to yell and free myself. Writing the script of Soleil Ô was an authentic act of rage and liberation.’”
“College fraternities may seem to be a quintessentially American disgrace,” writes Jon Dieringer, also at Screen Slate, “so one of the initial shocks of Mike De Leon’s 1982 Filipino hazing drama Batch ’81 is learning that the performance of, and submission to, juvenile rites of wanton, irresponsible cruelty for the sake of sublimating individual identity to the ostensibly red-blooded yet latently homoerotic alpha male herd mind in exchange for drinking buddies is apparently an international universal. In any case, the tone is less Animal House than Salò in this fairly explicit parable for Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship, which premiered at Cannes and swept the Philippines’ film awards in the later years of martial law.”
On Sunday, the festival presents Lewis Milestone’s The Racket (1928) “with a live piano score by Ben Model!,” as Caroline Golum notes, also at Screen Slate. “Gangster films are among the most pleasurable to watch—who among us hasn’t fantasized about running their own criminal enterprise?—and The Racket does not disappoint. For fans of pug-nosed strongmen, nihilistic good-time gals, and back door deals, Milestone’s addition to the adolescent genre goes down like a jolt of bathtub gin.”
Update, 1/24: For the Village Voice, Peter Labuza talks with Dave Kehr, whose “preparation for To Save and Project often begins in the summer at the Il Cinema Ritrovato festival, which he describes as a ‘Cannes of archival work,’ where various archives gather to project the fruits of their restorative labor in Bologna, Italy. Following that, Kehr then shifts his efforts to fine-tuning, seeking to ‘balance [the lineup] with a good distribution of eras, countries, and genres.’ The volume of the series has actually shrunk considerably in the last few years, though that’s mostly as Kehr has decked out the rest of the year-round MoMA calendar with rare archival items from Classical Hollywood. (The Film Department just announced a run, set to begin next month, of thirty restorations from the Poverty Row studio Republic Pictures.) The diversity of works in this year’s To Save and Project slate is apparent even through just a simple scroll: Where else will you get a Jackie Chan comedy next to a Chantal Akerman drama, in addition to works from Mexico, Burkina Faso, and the Philippines?”
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